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The Death of a Prominant Language

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Submitted By mbreezy69
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The Death of A Prominent Language: Sumerian Cuneiform

In many instances, Sumerian text has been influential to the ways of writing we have today. Sumerians were the first ancient civilization to start archiving the rules of writing that we use in present day. The lexicon of Sumerian language has yet to be fully deciphered; this is due to a lack of information. We have been studying Sumerian language since before the outbreak of WWI. Input from many different cultures in the attempt to decide if this language is truly the oldest recorded language in history, has led to our current level of knowledge on Sumerian language. Germany started full-scale investigations, while the French were the first to discover actual writing from this ancient culture. This paper is meant to elaborate upon the knowledge of Sumeria and its peoples writing styles. Ancient Sumerian language is thought to be the oldest written language in history. This may or may not be the case (Huffington Post, 2009). Findings in the area of determining the age of some written languages are uncertain. But for the most part, Sumerian is a definite running mate for the title of oldest written language. Sumerian was first started to be put into writing around 3200 BCE (, 2007). The main reason for the start of this was for agricultural purposes. Clay counters were used to keep track of how many plants were sealed into a container. Those counters were hard to keep track of, therefore, Sumerians came up with cuneiform. Cuneiform, is a style of writing used by many cultures that involves wedge shaped signs; and is the beginnings of standard written language today (, 2009). According to many scholars, Sumerians were the inventors of this aspect of writing. Therefore, we can attribute the way we write and construct sentences to this basic style of writing. The origins of Sumerian language were first discovered by a French archaeologist. Earnest De Sarzec, a French archaeologist, was the first to discover actual writing of Sumerian text in 1877. The successful excavation of Girisu (common day Iraq) produced over 100,000 stone tablets. That being said, those tablets were bilingual in nature; the tablets were inscribed with both Sumerian and Babylonian (, 2005). This is where we have an issue with Sumerian being the “oldest” written language. Later in years more excavations were done in Nippur, Iraq by a University of Pennsylvania professor by the name of John P. Peters (, 2009). That excavation yielded the first tablets scribed in pure Sumerian. Those tablets have been the cornerstone of deciphering the lexicon of ancient Sumerian language (Huffington Post, 2009). The most noted work in deciphering Sumerian text was done by German archaeologists before the outbreak of WWI. That work has laid the foundation of our current understanding of this ancient language. We are lucky to know as much as we do about this language. The reason for this is that the language has not been spoken in over 5000 years. Sumerians were a vast and ancient civilization. They were the first to conquer the means of cultivating crops, among other things. Those things include: plumbing, agricultural efficiency, tobacco usage, and the development of metal tools (, 2009). Plumbing and agricultural efficiency came at roughly the same time. There are no written accounts of when these developments actually came into the society, but there is evidence. Tobacco usage however, came about the same time as metal tools. There is evidence that around 2900 BCE the physiological structure of the human lungs in the peoples’ of Mesopotamia changed; this is believed to be around the time when locals started rolling tobacco cigarettes for recreational use (Huffington Post, 2009). In many ways, innovations made by Sumerian society are still in use today. The role of this society in the world has managed to shape events many thousands of years into the future. The question is, why did this civilization just disappear? Many scholars claim that there were hardships that Sumerians could not overcome. The most prominent of these is that there was a drought in that part of the world that lasted for 2 to 3 hundred years. As I stated earlier, there are no written accounts of this in the texts that have been discovered (, 2007). The evidence of this is found in the study of cultures of the area. Large amounts of sand that accumulated over abandoned settlements show that for a long period of time there was little to no water in the air. Many people were forced to re-locate to survive. The cultural advances that they had become so familiar with could not help them. However, evidence shows that many Sumerians did not feel that they had to give up their lands just because of a lack of water. This might explain why the civilization vanished in a short amount of time (, 2009). The conquering that many kings of Sumerians had accomplished was a matter of pride for the people of Sumeria, this led to an attitude that the land they had fought for was worth more than their lives. Those who chose to leave had other challenges to overcome. Travelers from Sumerian territories were under an extreme amount of strain. Many other leaders of the surrounding areas had hard feelings towards Sumeria for upheaving them from their birthplaces through military conquering. One of the biggest obstacles for native Sumerians was that their language was outlawed in most of the surrounding areas. Therefore, they were forced to give up their native tongue in order to escape persecution that ultimately led to public execution. The consequences for following Sumerian traditions outside of Sumeria were dire; in many cases, death by public decapitation was the most prominent means of punishment. This is believed to be the time in which the Sumerian language usage started to decline (, 2005). In many ways, this was the start of the destruction of a very influential society in human history. The decline in the usage of the language led to the loss of traditions that will, to this day, never be known with any certainty. There has been speculation that the major advances in language and culture may have had a catalyst of an “other-worldly” nature. Recent years have led to speculation that some of the cultural advantages of the Sumerian people, specifically their language, may have had something to do with the outside influence of alien forces. In all of the Sumerian artifacts found in the excavations there are etchings of peculiar men with what appear to be breathing masks (, 2009). This leads to the growing thought process that ideas for many of the innovations by Sumerians might have come from an outside stimulus. John P. Peters of the University of Pennsylvania asserted that there was no reason for the Sumerian society to have been as advanced as they were in the time period when they were around (, 2007). The most prominent attributed proof comes in the form of an investigation by a physiatrist in Nome, Alaska by the name of Dr. Abigail Tyler. Her patients were experiencing sleeping problems, but the same thing was happening to more than one patient. Tyler used hypnosis to get to the cause, her findings were relatively astounding. The hypnosis extracted audio of a non-human voice (meaning the formants in the voice did not match normal humans) that was partially translated. These recordings are the first time anyone has heard Sumerian spoken in over 5000 years. In closing, despite whether the influences to their culture made them advanced, Sumerians have contributed a great deal to language usage in today’s world. The cuneiform they created is the basis for many other languages worldwide. The scribing of the lexicon of their language is the first of its kind, and is the same system used for all languages in use at the present time. Research will continue in the hope that we can better understand this ancient and lost culture.
Works Cited sumerologists “The History of Ancient Sumeria including its cities, kings and religions” By Robert A. Guisepi Sumerian-origins-discoveries
“The Fourth Kind”, Universal Pictures. November 6, 2009

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